Sufian Qazi |
In October 2001, after the United States carried out heavy bombing raids on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s deputy prime minister, Haji Abdul Kabir, offered a “peace deal” to the US. He sent a message to Washington that the Taliban were ready to ‘discuss’ Osama Bin Ladin and may surrender him “if the US provide evidence”. He even added: “we would be ready to hand him over to a third country”. The furious-Washington, in the wake of recent September 11 attacks, responded loud and clear: “We do not talk to terrorists”.
The Taliban had no choice but to retreat. They pretty much had never faced such a military might – the kind of jets flying over them; the size of bombs; and the frequency of air raids. The zigzag Kandahar-mountains provided the Taliban a refuge and a fraction sought cover in the tribal strip in neighboring Pakistan where they conflated with the local population.
It is imperative to understand that “Terrorism” is a tactic, not an enemy force that can be defeated, and it knows no borders. It can be thwarted in certain instances, but it cannot be ended outright.
The Bush Administration assured the American public that “we are fighting a war abroad so we don’t have to fight it in our streets”. By 2003, after regrouping, the Taliban launched counter attacks on the US and NATO forces. By the time Barak Obama landed in the Oval Office, the American causalities in Afghanistan had skyrocketed; poppy production was again on the rise, and fragile Kabul government was crippling. Though Obama had promised during his presidential campaign to pull out US-troops, as the situation exacerbated he ended up sending more troops in Afghanistan.
The situation today is even worse. The Taliban are stronger than ever. They can carry out an attack anywhere at their will. Kabul government has lost almost half of the territory to the Taliban and its forces, despite American arms and training, are unable to keep order.
Without having a clear target and an exit strategy, the war in Afghanistan has backfired. The US President Donald Trump has lost patience with this 17-year-long war and the American public has gone weary. This frustration is understandable: Nearly 7,000 service members – and nearly 8,000 private contractors – have been killed. More than 53,700 people returned home bearing physical wounds, and numberless more carry psychological injuries. More than one million Americans who served in a theater of the war on terror received some level of disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The price tag, which includes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and increased spending on veterans’ care, will reach $5.9 trillion by the end of the fiscal year 2019, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University. Since nearly all of that money has been borrowed, the total cost with interest will be substantially higher.
But How Did the US End Up Here?
Let’s do the math: After the end of the Cold War, the victorious United States emerged as a sole super-power. There was an immense ‘hope’ that along relative global-peace would prevail and the world would channel its resources to mitigate issues such as economic inequality, education, and health to alleviate miseries of the global south. However, what was deemed as “the end of history” in words of Francis Fukuyama, turned out to be full of hatred and horror as the world embarked on the ‘War on Terror’.
The 2001 peace-offer by the Taliban was turned down arrogantly by the US. Today, after déjà vu of Vietnam Syndrome 2.0, the US was forced to offer the Taliban a peace deal.
The world found a new-common-enemy – Terrorism. The whole phenomenon was quite misleading: It is imperative to understand that “Terrorism” is a tactic, not an enemy force that can be defeated, and it knows no borders. It can be thwarted in certain instances, but it cannot be ended outright. Terrorism empowers individuals to satisfy themselves through terrorist attacks, who otherwise, in a massive military campaign, cannot mend the way of a powerful state – because they lack such capacity.
For instance, many Muslims find the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands illegal, provocative and a slur to their religion. Several head-on attempts were made by the Arab states to eradicate the ‘Jewish-lipoma’ on their land, but all failed mainly because of the US support to Israel.
Many such events injected agony in individuals (so-called the ‘radicalized’) towards the US policies and set a stage for the emergence of terrorist organizations and their sympathizers – not much tactically different from Irish-IRA and the Tamils in Sri Lanka. In other words, the tiny Lilliputians, through terrorism, attempted to bring down the American Gulliver. Therefore, terrorism will continue to haunt until the root causes of global conflicts are addressed.
Read more: Who will control Afghanistan?
Nonetheless, the ongoing US-Taliban talks in Qatar are encouraging to bring peace in Afghanistan. Those talks might be most accurately described as a negotiated capitulation by the international forces.
The Taliban have so-far declined to negotiate with the Kabul government terming it as an American puppet. However, both parties know that this is the only way to give the Americans a face-saving exit and the Taliban their due share in Kabul’s future power spectrum.
The 2001 peace-offer by the Taliban was turned down arrogantly by the US. Today, after déjà vu of Vietnam Syndrome 2.0, the US was forced to offer the Taliban a peace deal. The only difference is this time the Taliban are negotiating with an upper hand – and Uncle Sam is back to square one.
Sufian Qazi is an MPhil-scholar of Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, Islamabad. The views expressed in this article are authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.